by Yogi Aaron
What it is that pulls me to the Himalayan Mountains? What, for that matter, draws anyone? What is the allure and why even make a journey to India?
In actual fact, there are more Yoga Teachers in California than in India and the Yoga Asana taught there is much clearer and safer than what you will find anywhere in India, however living, moving and being in India creates a space for me to actualize my practice. Those questions continue to permeate my consciousness especially in light of recent events when many have asked, “Aaron, was it really worth it?”
After September 8th, my Yoga Practice was challenged in a way I would have never imagined possible and the pull and allure that brought me to India took me to a place in my Yoga Practice that would never have happened had I been in New York City or in a more comfortable setting. My Yoga Practice gave me the strength, the power and serenity to be content with a state of total helplessness and becoming almost stranded in the Himalayan Mountains. People come to India because they know Mother India has something to give them and quite often, she gives them what they need but in way which they may not want or expect.
In publishing this piece, it is my hope to convey “the story” or, more to the point, “a story about life”…my life. It is not being written nor is it being told to gain attention, or attain any status of heroism for me or those involved. I feel that it is simply a story of what happened to eight people on a mountain in the Himalayas. A story about what happened to them and how they dealt with the realities of what life gave to them in those moments. To me, this story is also a prayer and/ or an affirmation and celebration of life and all that it has to offer us. No parts of life are less than the other parts as they are all valuable in this incredible journey.
Why India or the Himalayas?
I have been very blessed to have spent as much time as I have in the Himalayas and for me, the Himalayas are similar to my parents in that they have taught me much. They create and hold the space for me to be still, to experience oneness and to open the doorway to contemplation.
I have found that the Himalayas not only mirror the best parts of me, they also reveal the hidden, and perhaps undesirable parts of me. I have also discovered that when my ego has become a little swollen, the Himalayas have a way of revealing this to me, helping to bring me back down a few notches. They teach me how to approach life with a sense of equanimity and they reveal my own incredible potential; the potential I often suppress and push aside.
The Himalayas are like my Mother whose valleys are like arms that cradle and draw me towards her bosom. As a caretaker of all my needs, her streams flow like milk to nurture me, her trees offer shade when it is too hot and her flowers offer beauty and remembrance at every turn.
The Himalayas are also like my father, who presents challenge and invites discipline; the discipline to stay alert and present and as such, causes me to become stronger as I climb the higher peaks and persevere in unlocking their secrets.
At every crossroad one can experience an enormous gamut of emotions and feelings ranging from fear, clarity of purpose, peace of mind, joy, love, excitement, trepidation, challenge and even anger.
The Himalayas have offered a training ground to me on how to approach life and have given me the opportunity to improve who I am and what I can offer in service to humanity. Through the challenge that the father of the Himalayas provides, I see who I really am. I see into my soul and there is no escape.
However, in all of these experiences, the Himalayas continually remind me of the sacred fire that burns brightly in all of us, of those beautiful and timeless Saints and Sages whom I have met and who live in continuous service of this fire and, whom with, we have shared moments of deep and exquisite bliss together. In those moments, no words need to be exchanged and no thoughts need even to be uttered. The fire consumes all ego and time.
For many who live in the Himalayan Mountains, theirs is a simple way of life that has not been touched by the outside world. Most villagers do not have locks on their doors and stealing is a foreign concept. In actual fact, many of the villagers we have met would be happy and willing to bring you into their home to take care of you and provide nurturing. They own nothing and yet have everything to offer you. The warmth in their eyes and the beautiful smiles that live on their lips are treasures a pilgrim can store in the chamber of his heart.
As a leader with the privilege of bringing groups to India and on into the Himalayas as often as I can, I present an opportunity to individual pilgrims to come to India without any of their preconceived notions, ideas and belief systems and experience life in the moment. Some of my students make a choice to let go of their baggage, knowing or sensing that there is a kingdom of rewards which await them while others hold desperately onto their identities as if their very lives depended on it and, in fear that if they let go, somehow they become something less.
From the Journals of Brian Gorman:
“We stop at Darwa Pass where we eat lunch at approximately 13,000 feet. The descent is steep, muddy. We encounter a family herding water buffalo. As I observe them, their smiles, I understand that they have so much less than I do, and so much more. I begin to think about the importance of letting go. Tonight at Dodital, I journal on how so much unhappiness is the result of “need” and expectation, both of which are artificial creations of our culture. I begin to record what I have been letting go of: dry shoes, dry feet, and dry clothes. Letting go of all the scents we put on our bodies in various guises. Letting go of hot showers or any showers. Letting go of being in control. It is small, it is temporary and it is experimental. Yet it is important.
I sleep with a smile on my face.”
Why Do I Practice Yoga And What Brought Me To India?
The reasons why I began practicing Yoga were personal and quite selfish. In the beginning, I was actually afraid of physically aging because I observed that people who “were older” showed signs of limited movement and poor posture.
However, when I witnessed those rare individuals who “were older” and yet appeared youthful with mobility and freedom in their movements, I began to see that it was their willingness to move and stretch their bodies that enabled them to appear to spring through life. At an early age I adopted the mantra, “Use it or loose it.”
Basically, I was a lazy man back then. Yes, I worked out but I had absolutely no motivation to stretch before or after my workouts. My body seemed to be getting tighter with each passing moment and I began to realize how much I really needed to stretch, so I began to practice Yoga.
Over time, my reasons for practicing Yoga have changed as a result of my practice because I began to experience a feeling of clarity and direction of purpose that I had not experience before and this realization motivated me to want to experience more. What I began to observe about myself was that the objects and pleasures of the world that once made me happy no longer held a lot of interest for me. The more I practiced Yoga, the more my happiness was sourced from within rather than from outside of me.
I practice now to unveil those strengths which have been given to me and to transform the weaknesses within. I practice Yoga to have a better understanding of this world and to experience the beautiful people who roam around it.
My practice enables me to become a greater source of good on this planet however, the biggest reason why I practice yoga is to overcome all my fears, particularly the one we ALL have an appointment with and that is Death.
On this visit to India, that fear was put to test.
Many years ago, even before Madonna cast a light on Ashtanga Yoga, I and my Yogi friend and teacher would often talk about traveling to India. “We are going to have to go soon,” he would often say to me. Everyone around us was doing it. My friends and associates and anyone else who was really involved in practicing Yoga, made a trip to India.
As I flash forward a few years to New York and the founding of HNY, I had finally found my teacher and was ready for an adventure. One day while I was reading Yoga International, (now Yoga Plus) I saw that the Himalayan Institute was leading a trip to Kajuraho and the Temple of the Sixty-Four Yogini’s. This was a place which was frequently mentioned in the stories of Swami Rama and I immediately signed up without the slightest hesitation.
That was a hard trip for me and by the end of it I was done and ready to come home. I had enough of India and quite enough of the group I was with, who seemed to be, in my opinion, a bunch of angry, crazy, older women who pretended to be spiritual but were in reality looking for opportunities to bargain with impoverished street vendors over beautiful, hand made silk scarves and rugs. Most of all though, I had enough of smelly Delhi and as I boarded the plane, I swore to myself that I would never come back to “this god forsaken country” again. Mother India however, was not ready to let me go because we made an emergency landing back into New Delhi within five minutes of taking off.
Four and a half years later and after five trips back to India, it was on this trip of September 2007 that I was to really learn and understand the meaning and practice of surrender.
The Tantricas tell us to, “Surrender to the Mother of Life; surrender to her arms. The eternal mother is always holding you, cradling you and protecting you.” These blessed Sages teach us that we suffer in life because we forget this and that through consistent spiritual practice we not only begin to remember, we begin to experience the Lord and Mother of Life who dwells in the deepest chamber of our hearts. Thinking and philosophizing about this is one thing, but direct experience is the surest way to liberation and for me, going to India and doing my practice there, is one of the ways I can immediately experience her splendor.
We left New Delhi on August 31 and were driven to Rishikesh where we enjoyed a fabulous afternoon of communing and exploring. Some people might think that the journey started in Rishikesh, however it actually started the moment we arrived in India and some might even say that the journey really started as soon as they made the decision to actually go…
From the Journal of Brian Gorman:
“August 31st – We are on the road from Delhi to Rishikesh by 5:00 AM. Though I don’t know it yet, this departure is a great awakening for my senses and will serve me well in the weeks to come. As we drive this morning, the sun doesn’t rise so much as the haze becomes increasingly luminous. Over the next two weeks we will experience many sunrises, from the road and on the trail. There will be those days when we look up to see the sun lighting the tops of the mountains above us and then look down to see the clouds engulf the mountains below. In Seema, sunrise finds us inside the clouds, while at Tapoban the sky is blue, the peaks of Shivling and Bhagirathi glistening white and gold. This morning, these experiences lay ahead.
Today, as the haze grows brighter, it is clouded over at times by the dust from the road or an infrequent patch of fog. The cacophony of noise, even at this hour, is almost overwhelming. Painted on the rear of every truck is Horn Please. We oblige, frequently…. I quickly begin to learn the language of the horns, and to trust our drivers. The first of these lessons is interesting. The second is indispensable. Two lanes, two way roads quickly become one way as vehicles pass one another in an intricately choreographed dance. The bicycles, motorbikes and oxcarts dance with the cars, taxis, buses, and trucks. Each moves at a different pace, finding its own space. All forms of conveyance share the roads, whether highway or byway, city or-increasingly-country. Tractors pull carts laden with grass while oxcarts are loaded with brick. Mini-buses (many three-wheeled), bicycles (again, many with three wheels), donkey carts weave a living fabric of noise, sight, sound, and motion. Through all of this wend the cattle, the dogs and the pedestrians. One lane in each direction becomes two, three, or even four leading a single way. The road doesn’t change width, only flow, until there is no choice but to reclaim its original two-way identity.”
That evening before dinner, we met together for the first time in a formal setting. I spoke about the trip, what to expect, made a promise that they would make it down the mountain safely and, most importantly, spoke about setting an intention.
I let it be known to the group that my intention was that I wanted to be able to emulate Gandhi, or in some way or other, become closer to him and what he was. It is recorded that when Gandhi was shot by a gun, he died with a smile and the name of God on his lips. I want to know the level of peace, contentment and equanimity. At the core of my own Yoga Practice, this is what I am working to cultivate and, I have discovered that being in the Himalayas, walking the paths of so many Saints, Sages and Pilgrims, deepens my connection in being able to experience that much peace, contentment and equanimity.
From Rishikesh on our trip brought us laughter, many challenges, a lot of cow manure and much beauty. On one particular day, as we were descending from Dodital…
From the Journals of Brian Gorman:
“By the time we stopped for lunch, the sun was out and donkeys were grazing in a corral below a concrete patio. When we arrived we were surprised to be told that we should remove our shoes and socks. Although we were used to removing our shoes at religious sites, this did not look like a shrine, nor was it. The reason was much more pragmatic. Shortly before arriving there, we had crossed an area that was known for leeches. Sure enough, they were in our shoes, in our socks and, in many cases, already attached to our bodies. Salt and sunshine was enough to rid us of most of the leeches.”
The trip continuously brought surprises and lessons that were, as you read above, often comical. A pilgrimage brings the potential for us to find out about ourselves, how we deal with situations and to try on new attitudes and beliefs about ourselves and the world we live in.
It was fascinating to watch the group in this situation because as some could not deal with the leeches, others laughed and enjoyed the beautiful sun that had blessed us during our lunch not giving a second thought to them.
When traveling through India, one has to be content with all situations that may appear and often, quite unexpected.
Traffic, flooded roads, travel delays; all of which I am sure we have all experienced before. However, I have never experienced them in the same manner as I have in India.
From the Journals of Brian Gorman:
“September 5 (continued): Shortly after leaving for Gangotri, we find that the road ahead is blocked by a landslide. We turn around and head back a few minutes to the last village we had passed. There is time for breakfast. Breakfast is leisurely. We know that when we get back on the road, it will be open or it will still be blocked. There is no need to rush to find out.
In fact, we discover that the landslide that allowed us breakfast has been cleared. However, not many kilometers ahead there is another. When we travel as far as we can, we pull to the side of the road and park. The parking is a bit random, some vehicles on one side of the road, some vehicles on the other. There are buses of pilgrims, taxis, motor scooters, cars, and trucks. Everyone knows that we will be here for hours. I confirm that for myself firsthand when I walk down the road to see the massive rocks blocking our way.
Imagine this. You have a travel itinerary, a destination. The plan is to drive to Gangotri, drop some gear at a guesthouse and begin the next trek. Instead, you and hundreds of others will be waiting for an apparently significant period of time on a mountain road. For us, the experience was very Indian, amazing and thought provoking.
Some took the opportunity to nap, either in their vehicles or along the rocks on the side of the road. Others read. People walked up and down, stopping to meet others and to talk. We had passed a waterfall shortly before we stopped. The sun was out, so it became a place for people to do their laundry. Some (myself included) set shoes and clothes out in the sun to dry. There was dancing and singing. There were processions of pilgrims. What was missing was the anger, the vitriol, the impatience, the honking of horns, the expressions of rage that such a circumstance would have elicited anywhere I had ever been before.
Eventually, the road was opened. It took a bulldozer, dynamite, and a large road crew. It is 3:10 in the afternoon; we have been here over six hours. People move back to their vehicles and slowly, our pilgrimages resume. We reach our destination three hours later. Tonight we will spend at a guesthouse in Gangotri. Landslides happen, itineraries change. It is about the journey.”
Tabovan, Abode of the Gods – The day before the accident.
Tapovan, at 14,500 feet, is one of the most majestic places I have ever visited. Celebrated in Hindu mythology and religion, the Garhwal Himalayas are said to be the “Abode of the Gods”. The river Ganges takes its source in this remote massif, at the sacred shrine of Gangotri and rushes down to the plains in a torrential fury. Very few trekkers follow this itinerary which will lead to one of the most important spots of Hindu spirituality, where people may well experience a strange atmosphere of spiritual fervor.
Upon reaching Tapovan, the group felt an overwhelming sense of achievement and fulfillment and, as the Leader my prayers and hopes were answered as I observed my group feeling the mystique and majesty of this place.
It is in Tapovan that I met Mata-ji, also known as Mama-Ji. Mata means great mother and Ji is a sign of respect and kindred spirit. Mata-ji is a beautiful old Sage who lives in the Himalayas and I had met her on a previous trip. We were very blessed this time, to have Darshan with her. (Darshan, in this context, means to sit with an enlightened one.) As we sat down, Mata-ji, with her beautiful smile, told us the following story.
“There was a village with one Fire. This Fire was kept in a special house in the center of the village. Whenever a villager needed Fire for their own use, they went to this special house to get some fire and brought it back with them.
Late, on one particular night when the whole village was asleep, a man wanted to have a cigarette. Even though it was late, he decided to set out to this special house to find Fire for his cigarette. He took his lantern so he could find his way through the village. Upon arriving at the house, he knocked on the door and waited for a response. Finally, a keeper of the fire answered the door and asked what the gentleman would like. He asked for fire for his cigarette. The Keeper responded by asking the gentleman if he realized that there was a fire that already lit his lantern and that he did not really need to come and ask him for fire but that he was happy to provide him with more.”
When I first heard this story, I felt a deep sense of remembrance. The Sages like Mata-ji, are our direct link to ourselves and to the potential of what we can be. Their purity, their practice, their clarity, and the love they give so effortlessly to Seekers from all over the world, flock to these Sages, or at least attempt to meet them. Many Seekers end up finding the false ones, the charlatans, the shysters who will perform all kinds of tricks like telling a person their future, sleeping on beds of nails, breathing fire, and so on. These tricks have nothing to do with the path of enlightenment and the naive Seekers, eager in their own pursuits coupled with their own lack of spiritual practice and eagerness to cut corners, stop and quickly begin to follow these “pseudo sages”.
The real Sages however, can only be found deep in the Himalayan Mountains and, like Mata-ji, they are not easily accessible, but once you do find them, they pour their love and spirit out to you and one feels as if they are standing at the gates of heaven.
As in my experience with Mata-ji, I felt as if I had come home. I experienced this deep remembrance of who I was, what I was searching for and the power of the latent fire and its potential that lay dormant within me.
As I gazed at her beautiful serene and peaceful face, her eyes overwhelmed me with compassion and love. In many stories, those Seekers who meet these kinds of saints, often tell a story of “coming home” and I too, felt as if I had come home in meeting Mata-ji.
In the story above, we see that the person seeking “the fire” had simply forgotten that he already possessed it.
Mata-ji lives for six month of the year under a mountain which many Indians consider to be the incarnation of Shiva and only through intense service and spiritual practices, patience, discipline and devotion, is God then truly revealed.
I have always read this in many of the stories of the saints. We hear of saints who go through years of testing and ordeals and it is only then that they obtain enlightenment. Now, after my ordeal in India, I now understand their message and have experienced the truth in this message.
In each of us, we carry the fire, but we have forgotten. To remember this flame, some of us practice Yoga. Some of us go to Church and some of us go to therapy, trying to remember that fire. We are looking for some sort of pill called Instant Spirituality to help us to keep remembering; however what we do not want to admit is that the real pill, the pill that is “enlightenment”, consists of hard work, discipline, and devotion – daily devotion to this eternal flame that we all carry which has the power of illumination.
At 7:00 AM on September 8th, we departed for Gangotri from Tapovan which was 24 kilometers or 15 miles away. The sun had already risen over the peaks of the mountains and the beautiful abode of Tapovan was beginning to wake up. We gathered together a group before our descent and met the sun light as it kissed our faces good-bye. As I did every morning, I gave a short talk which included a few instructions about the day.
I said, “Please take your time as we descend. Give each other some space. Remember to breathe and draw the forces of nature to you.” Together we invoked the Gayatri Mantra which asks, “May the light of the universe illuminate my consciousness and may I be used as a force for good.” We then set out.
The beginning of the descent was a little challenging however, in retrospect, I believe that this is a matter of perspective as to how challenging it actually is and when you observe the Porters, carrying one hundred pounds on their backs, almost running down the mountain, some may say it is not.
Our group slowly made their way down this steep grade, step by step and our guide was very patient with us. There is much truth in the fact that going up is always easier than going down.
At about 8:30 AM, we were getting very close to the bottom of the steep descent and, from where I was standing; it looked to be about thirty feet away. I remember thinking, “Oh, now I can breathe a sigh of relief,” understanding that my own anxiety had nothing to do with the level of risk in making the descent, but in being sensitive to other people’s “fears”.
Suddenly I heard Robert yell, “Look out!” My initial reaction was, “Yeah right,” because during the climb up and the first part of the descent, every single time a little rock that was about the size of a quarter started to roll down, the warning someone would give seemed to inflate this little rock into the size of a miniature Volkswagen so that when I actually heard the admonition to “Look out!”, I did not look up until I heard Brian’s very deep and scared voice yell, “Look up!!! Look up!!!”
There are moments in our lives which will stay with us forever and there are images in our lives that will be forever imprinted upon our minds and this particular moment has been indelibly etched into mine. As I looked up, I saw a rock which seemed to be only a few feet from me, heading right towards me and it looked to be about twice the size of a basketball.
From the Journal of Robert J:
“A couple of the falling rocks were small but there was one very large rock, bigger than a bowling ball. Actually it was sort of oblong so it was probably the size of two bowling balls put together. That rock hit Aaron square in the thigh, up very close to the hip. Aaron cried out and fell to the ground and it was immediately clear that his leg was badly broken.”
The next few moments after that are a complete blur. However hard I try to remember, those moments are gone from me forever. What I do remember is lying down and screaming. Many that were in the group think that I was screaming because of the pain but the truth was that I was screaming because I had a pretty good idea that my leg was busted up (I had no idea to what extent in that moment, only that the situation was grim) and that a part of me was so angry at the universe for letting this happen in that moment. Then the pain kicked in and it is not something I would ever wish upon anyone. Even though I have a high threshold for pain, this was unimaginable to me.
From the Journal of Robert J:
“Once we got Aaron semi-stabilized so we wouldn’t slide any further down the rock face, we split up. I stayed with Aaron along with Jojo, Robert Benvenuti and one of our guides, Raja. We sent Tom Collier ahead, with one of the fastest porters, with a note saying that we needed a helicopter transport to get Aaron out. We were 24 km from Gangotri and there’s a military base about 20 km past that so we hoped the army could evacuate him. As an alternative we asked for a “dandy” which is sort of a reclining chair carried by four porters. We knew that the village of Bhojbasa was only about 9 km away (4 km below Gaumukh), and that they had a wireless radio connection to Gangotri, so we hoped that Tom and the fastest porter could get help by radio pretty quickly. We also sent out three others in our party (including Brian) so they could get to Gangotri and assist in getting help.”
Once I had returned from my own self defeating denial, I decided to stay as conscious as I possibly could and, in this state of clarity, my first “commandment” was, “Do not let them operate on me until we reach Delhi!”
About forty-five minutes after the accident we sent Tom, a student of HNY, to a Ranger Station that was about five km away. His job was to get a helicopter to airlift me off the mountain because I knew that I would not be able to move and I thought that there was obviously no way they could carry me down the mountain without the proper supplies. Tom, who was in excellent physical shape, was able to cover about 7 kilometers in about one hour.
A half an hour later I turned to Robert, another HNY student, and said, “I cannot do this,” meaning that the pain was so intense that I felt that I could not wait for three hours or more for the impending helicopter rescue.
He turned to me and said, “Aaron, you have to make it and I will be right here with you, helping you as much as I can.” As I think back to that moment and contemplate on what support really means, this was support above and beyond what I could have imagined.
That day, we were particularly lucky in that the sky was very clear and the sun was shining brightly because up to that point in our trip, we had been dealing with some very unpredictable weather patterns. Even so, the ground was still cold from the night before and it was apparent that with the added complication of going into shock, my team really needed to make sure that I would not succumb to hypothermia.
Robert, being the resourceful man he is, happened to have a thermometer on him and they monitored my body temperature every half hour. At one point however, I dropped down to 96 degrees and fortunately, Robert happened to have some little Hershey Chocolates so that every time and ever time my temperature dropped, they gave me another chocolate. Since I had no appetite to eat anything else, these were perfect and my core temperature immediately responded.
From the Journal of Robert J:
“The helicopter rescue was not going to work out because, as it turned out, the army was not willing to assist and/ or the helicopter was not available. I don’t know exactly what the story was but there was no helicopter.
In the meantime, Aaron was going into shock but we were keeping him warm, feeding him chocolate and monitoring his temperature and other vital signs. About 1 pm Aaron decided that he wanted to move 30 feet down the rock face to a spot that was more protected, more level and more stable. We all helped him move, inch by inch even though he was in excruciating pain. We also got him into a sleeping bag and about 2 pm we started planning for the possibility of being stuck there overnight. The guide went back up to Tapoban and borrowed a tarp and some blankets from Sage. We had just constructed a makeshift tent when the porters reappeared with additional men. They told us that they were going to have to carry Aaron out because there was no helicopter.
After a lot of debate about how to build a stretcher out of sticks and blankets, the porters ending up creating a kind of hammock or a sling with the blankets and they tied that to sticks, with Aaron inside wrapped up like a cocoon. Jojo, Robert and I started descending, with Aaron and the porters behind us. The porters had to carry him in that sling down the rest of the rock face, traverse the Gangotri Glacier and then on down to Gaumukh.
In the mean time, a dandy was being sent up from Gangotri which met the porters a little below Gaumukh. A Norwegian couple, whom we had met earlier, had a campsite there and they helped splint Aaron’s legs together inside the dandy, using Brian’s trekking poles. We met up with Tom at Bhojbasa around 6:00 PM.”
Being in that cocoon was an experience that brought up a vast range of emotions from deep within me. I felt completely helpless and there was absolutely nothing I could do about anything. When a person breaks a bone, especially a bone that enables a certain kind of movement like walking or being able to stand up, they are totally incapacitated. I remember being able to wiggle my toes and that was about it. I was not able to do anything else.
As I was being transported down the mountain, I learned a valuable lesson in surrender. I often tell my students that one of the belief’s in Tantra is that the whole world is a manifestation of the Divine Mother and that bliss is the experience of being held in her arms. Coming down that mountain and wrapped in that makeshift cocoon was just such an experience.
No, it was not smooth sailing and there were a few times when I was dropped as the porters were delicately doing their very best to transport me over the glacier. Inter-mingled with the felt experiences of pain and bliss, all my fears about being dropped down the cliffs into the Ganga also surfaced and when I say that the Practice of Yoga has lead me to this experience, I really mean that.
Yoga teaches us to embrace the moment and face our Karma, which are the situations which life presents to us. Yoga also teaches us that we are where we are and to be content with the moment. If we are not content, we need to adjust.
As I brought my attention to my body, I began breathing in for six counts and exhaling for six counts and this went on for the better part of the following two days as well. I was rewarded with my attention always being brought back to that feeling of being held in “Her Arms” with my mind keeping a vigil on Her Grace and the mantra my teacher had given to me.
From the Journal of Robert J:
“The guide and the porters wanted to keep walking the 15 km to Gangotri even though night was falling. Tom went with them and Jojo, Robert and I stayed at Bhojbasa. We were exhausted and cold. Aaron, Tom and the porters arrived at Gangotri at 11:00 PM. Brian had been in touch with the embassy and had arranged for an ambulance to transport Aaron to the next town with a hospital, which was Uttarkashi. It turned out the “ambulance” was just a car with a driver and a stretcher. There were no medical service, and the driver had no medical training. There were no straps to hold Aaron in place or to hold the stretcher in place. At midnight they started driving, with Tom and Raja holding Aaron in the stretcher.
What should have been a five hour drive to Uttarkashi turned into thirteen and a half hours because there had been another landslide blocking the road. (We had had a similar delay during our drive up to Gangotri several days before.)
At Uttarkashi Aaron was X-Rayed and the doctor wanted to operate, however Aaron refused. We had discussed that we needed to get him to Delhi so he could be seen by a good orthopedic surgeon and that remained our plan.
Meanwhile Jojo, Robert and I hiked out from Bhojbasa to Gangotri Sunday morning and we reassembled our group to start our drive to Uttarkashi that afternoon. We got to the hospital just before nightfall where Aaron was splinted and made as comfortable as he could be. However, we knew that we needed to get him to Delhi. There had been a power outage at the hospital and there were dogs in the hallways. It was not a clean facility.
Aaron and Tom left with our chief driver Soubash,on Monday morning. At Aaron’s urging, the other six of us stopped in Rishikesh rather than continue to Delhi with Aaron and Tom. Meanwhile I had contacted a friend who has family in India and, through several phone calls and emails, we had gotten the name and number of a good Orthopedic Surgeon in Delhi.
The surgery took place on Tuesday, so by the time the actual surgery took place seventy-two hours had elapsed from the time of the injury.
The rest of the group arrived in Delhi on Thursday and Brian and I went to the hospital. Aaron was in really good spirits and we met the doctors. Tom was helping him exercise up and down the hall on crutches (the beginning of his physical therapy). Then Tom and Brian and I went to the airport which Aaron remained at the hospital.”
When the surgery was over, I was so very blessed to have Tom with me. He was a rock and pillar of remembrance. Tom took care of everything that the nurses could not get to and I do mean everything. From the mundane to the handling of financial affairs and even helping me get to the bathroom. Tom was with throughout it all and, because he was there, we had the time to get to know each other in a way that would never have been possible in other circumstances.
In one of our conversations, I told Tom that I now had the opportunity to make lemons into lemonade. He responded to me, in a very humble voice, by asking, “Isn’t it really about enjoying the lemons?” In that moment, completely amazed, I wondered how it was that I could have been teaching Yoga for so long and missed that precious gem.
One area which my healing process has made me revisit is fear. On November 11th, after seeking permission from my Physiotherapist, I took my bike out for the first time. I had actually received permission the week before but kept procrastinating in actually riding it. By November 11th, I realized that I was actually delaying this activity because I was afraid and, the very moment I admitted this to myself, I immediately, yes immediately, took by bike out for a spin around the block.
I have been telling people since the surgery that I have been given a gift and that gift is a new toy, this body. It isn’t the one I asked for, nor is it the one I wanted, but it is definitely the one I have been given and yes, there has been a lot of frustration and challenge because everything I do takes so much energy and demands so much patience.
Healing and transformation happen in their own time and healing does not instantly occur when I want it to happen. This was a lesson my body reminded me about every single day after my surgery. There were some days when I felt like I could walk the next day and run into the sunrise or ride on my bike into the sunset, and there were other days when I felt as if I would never heal or gain any strength again.
So many people wait to begin a practice in Yoga. They wait until they do a private session. They wait until their boyfriend gives them permission. They wait until a better time appears and, when it does, a new television series begins and they change their minds. On and on it goes.
I see the curiosity, the desire, the want in their eyes when I speak to them. I see the words written on the computer screen when they send me their emails of inquiry. However, the excuses are always the same. “I am not flexible enough.” “I am too much of a beginner.” “My boyfriend is too jealous.” “I am not ready.” “I need to loose 5 lbs first.” The bottom line is that they never make time.
At a workshop I attended when I was twenty, the facilitator commented that in life there are three kinds of people. There are crawlers, posers (who are also crawlers) and there are walkers. The idea is that if everyone on the planet suddenly lost their ability to walk and everyone had to relearn, we would all fall into one of these three categories.
The Crawlers are the people who either would not bother to learn how to walk or would try to learn and then immediately give up. The Posers would not bother to learn how to walk at all. Instead they would learn how to pose so that when a walker happened to pass them by, they would immediately stand up pretending to be something that they were not. The Walkers, which are only a few people, are the ones with enough discipline and determination to actually get up and learn to walk. These thoughts came into my mind many times as I, myself, had to learn how to walk again.
Attending Yoga Classes in Hot Nude Yoga and elsewhere has been an incredible support for me and yes, it was not easy. There I was hobbling on my crutches into a class (and everyone always asks what happened? ), gathering props one at a time, taking ten minutes to lay my mat on the ground and get ready, dealing with muscle spasms during the practice whilst attempting to find some peace within.
In many ways I have had to not only rebuild the muscle in my legs but literally learn how to walk again. It has been a very humbling experience. I am a Yoga Teacher. I am supposed to be a strong Yogi who has incredible strength and who can climb mountains at great altitude. But here I am, not that person anymore and if I am not that person, who I am? Each step of this process, from the beginning until now, has allowed me to re-examine who I am and what I think I can do.
This experience has invited me to become really involved in the process of healing and creation and, in my opinion; the word healing is a beautiful word. In me it evokes a sense of change through an inner process of gaining strength. For those who have experienced trauma, whether it be physical, mental or emotional, healing can be very challenging.
This is not my body
As we delve into the deeper, and more austere and intense practices of Yoga, we are taught that we will probably suffer or experience a lot of pain. The idea is that in the process of disseminating the ego, all of our beliefs and truths about ourselves and our relationship to the world are brought into question. The ego fights this process because so many people have a self inflated image of themselves and, consequently the experience can be even more painful. The ego fights very hard to stay connected to an image about what it thinks it is or should be and fights hard to stay connected to the body. What is often misunderstood is that the amount of pain we actually feel or experience is a choice.
You might ask why it is that I am discussing this and the answer would be because I now been through this experience I have realized that, more than anything else, it has shown me one of the truths or bit of wisdom that Yoga tries to impart and that is that I am not my body. If I had not been practicing Yoga and Meditation for all of these years, I would have become a proverbial mess.
Within a couple of hours of the boulder hitting my leg, I lost all ability to move my left leg and after my surgery, every movement I made was very intense.
After attending many Yoga classes since the surgery, it is obvious to me that the body I once had is no longer the one I have now. What is even more fascinating to me is to notice is that the body I now have, because of these life changing experiences, has not really altered who I really am. I still move through life with the same amount of determination, if not a little more determination, than I used to have. I view life as an adventure waiting to be discovered and am able see that if anything has changed at all, it is my own enjoyment of life. I feel much more content than I ever have felt.
In the closing…
“Life is a manuscript, and the author of that manuscript is that which you are. …The beginning and the ending of this manuscript are missing. You do not consciously know from where you have come; you do not know where you will go.” – Swami Rama
This is our life. This is it. Life is not a rehearsal. Our appointment with death or change can come any moment. I came close to mine and, in that moment, I was ready to let go. Instead, I was given an extended gift.
I was completely prepared to shed this body. I have told many people that Yoga prepared me for this moment. My years of practice not only helped me to deal with the present, it has shown me that I was ready to let go. To feel complete surrender is a very great gift and gives a sense of completion to one’s life.
We do not normally ask for these experiences and I most certainly did not sign up for this occurrence. I faced what was in front of me and had the choice about what I was going to do about it. While I have had a lot of life “stuff” happen to me before, what happened to me India is the kind of thing I could never have imagined would happen to me. In my egotistical mind I think, “My Karmic path would never take me there,” and yet it did.
Knowing everything I know now, I still choose to venture out as bravely as I can, to taste the exquisiteness of life and to bite into its mysteries whilst constantly challenging myself to tread the path fearlessly and every so often, a master comes into our lives to remind us of just this aspect.
They tell us about an eternal fire within us and they say “Oh Man, thou art greater than God, because God does not have Man in him, but Man has God within him.”
They remind us to tread fearlessly in life and that we always have choice. While our choices may lead to physical pain or discomfort, if we remember that sacred fire within, we will always be happy. We have the capacity to always know happiness.
We will know some pain along the way but through our “Spiritual Practice and Discipline,” and through the love and support from those within our community, we will be fine. We will be more than fine. Through a combined and synergistic effort, we support each other to continue to understand ourselves, to continue to practice. Our Practice will always remind us of the eternal flame that resides in the deepest chamber of our hearts. The more we move towards the depth of what our practice has to offer, the closer to the fire we get. The closer we get to the eternal flame, the brighter we shine. The brighter we shine, the more we understand that eternal fire within and invite it to consume us. Because we shine brighter, the more we give permission for those around us to do the same.
Events as They Happened
August 28th – Departed New York for India
August 31st – Arrived in Rishikesh
September 7th – Arrived in Tapovan
September 8th – 8:30 AM – The Accident.
September 8th – 2:30 PM – The porters came to carry me down the mountain.
September 8th – 11:45 PM – Arrived in Gangotri, met the Ambulance to take me to Uttarkashi
September 9th – 3:00 AM – Delayed by a Landslide for 9 hours
September 9th – 1:30 PM – Arrived in Uttarkashi
September 10th – Arrived New Delhi in the evening.
September 11th – 11:00 PM – Surgery
September 12th – I take my first steps.
September 19th – Departed India and arrived in New York
September 23rd – Taught first yoga class in New York
October 1st – First visit to the Orthopedic Doctor – I could not bend my knee more than 80 degrees
October 4th – Began Physiotherapy
October 22nd – Took my first Yoga Class – finally could bend my knee to 130 degrees.
October 25th – I took my first dip in the ocean in Hawaii which was very liberating.
October 25th – Began walking around with a cane.
October 27th – Hawaiian Retreat
November 6th – Began using the cane full time.
November 11th – Rode my bike for the first time.
November 30th – Started walking without the cane.
December 4th – Cane free!
About Yogi Aaron
Yogi Aaron brings passion and a spirit of adventure to his teaching. Thus inspired, he guides students to secret, far-flung locales, which not only empowers them to realize their own limitless potential but also makes yoga relevant and accessible for the modern world. Since 2002 he has been traveling and leading retreats worldwide. He currently serves as the Yoga Director at Blue Osa Yoga Retreat + Spa in Costa Rica